A&E's 2001 Interview w/ Robert Lindsay
Captain Pellew is a very important person in the life of Horatio Hornblower. How does he fit into this story?
I am part of a court martial, in which, as commodore, I'm overseeing this court martial, where they're court marshaling my boy, Hornblower. He has been involved in some misdealings in the Caribbean. The trial takes place in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1801. Basically, it's trial by jury, and if he fails, he will hang. I desperately want to save him because he's my protégé.
Tell me more about Pellew's relationship with Hornblower.
It's the end of the relationship, because Hornblower now becomes his own man, his own master, his own captain. He's running his own ship. I'm trying desperately to save his life. And whether I succeed or not, you'll have to wait and see.
What was your reaction when you got this script for this new episode?
Well, I was surprised, because I wasn't sure that Pellew still had a life in this series. I was pleased, and strangely enough, so were a lot of American fans. Since the first series, we've developed this huge audience in America, as you probably know. I'm as amazed to find I have this Web site devoted entirely to my character. (Laughs) So, I think a lot of people will be pleased. I'm pleased because I enjoy doing the series.
Captain Pellew is a particularly interesting character, isn't he?
When I first accepted the role, I didn't realize that Pellew was real. In fact, Captain Pellew is the only factual figure in it. As you know, the Hornblower books are completely fictitious by Forester, but he wrote around this character of Pellew. In fact, I've had letters from his family since the series was transmitted two years ago, who I've corresponded with. They live in Falmouth, and I think are still seafaring people. It's quite weird to play a character and then get letters from his great-great-grandchildren. And, it's very flattering to be told that you're doing the character justice.
What was the real Captain Pellew like?
Well, one thing I have learned that he never gave an order that he couldn't perform himself. Lots of people have commented about that. He was very courageous; he was very honorable. Pellew went on the anti-slavery fleets and actually arrested people taking slaves from Africa across the Atlantic. He just seems an extraordinary man. He became a very wealthy man, very shrewd. And there were some very human touches. For example, there was a story I read where he threw a cabin boy into the sea. All the sailors were swimming, and this cabin boy was reluctantly on the deck. Pellew just came up and pushed him into the sea, and the kid couldn't swim. He was only like 12. So Pellew dived in full uniform and rescued the kid. Yes, this man must have been liked, he must have been a good captain. His officers enjoyed working under him. And let's face it, a lot of people were pressed into service. Interestingly, only last week on the Radio 4 here, there was an article about Pellew. There was a black jazz singer that he discovered in a bar. Pellew pressed him into service because he wanted him to sing on the boat, and he served under Pellew for five years. There was something very cavalier about him, as well. I mean this guy would go to sea for years on end and never see dry land. You could imagine he must have been very hardy and tough and resilient, with obviously no family life at all. (Laughs) Although he did father children obviouslythe parents of the grandchildren who have written to me.
Tell me about working with Ioan. Have you kept in touch since the last episodes were shot?
No. Don't want to see him. Actually, that's not true. I did Richard III in Cardiff where Ioan was born, and his parents wrote to me and offered me to come over, because they knew I looked after Ioan. I was very much a fatherly figure. Now he looks after me.
In spite of his relationship with Hornblower, Pellew remains impartial in terms of the court martial. That must be a terrible situation for him.
Oh, totally. But as Commodore of the fleet, he has to do it. Unfortunately for him, he's got these two captains who really want to see justice done. He's convinced of Hornblower's innocence because he knows that the man is an innocent and honorable human being. It's a very difficult situation to be in. But also it humanizes the story. As I said, from the first series, one of the successful elements was that relationship between the father and son.
Please tell us about the atmosphere in the courtroom. What takes place for Horatio and what's at stake for Pellew?
Well, what's at stake for Hornblower is he's going to lose his life. What's at stake for Pellew is that he will lose a man he holds dear, a man who he holds in high esteem, who he trained and boasted and about in the fleet and gained a promotion for. So, I suppose from one point of view it would be the shame for Pellew and also the sad loss of what he regards as a son.
These nautical adventures are sort of in a genre all of their own. Why are they so appealing?
Well, there's an innocence about it. The whole morality is of another age, another era. I think maybe with all the complicated lifestyles we all live and talking about all the crazy things like Web sites, sometimes it may be interesting just to go back and have a look at simple values. Interestingly, it's been more successful in America than it has here. But then the English were a lot harder to please, and I don't mean that in any cynical way. I just think that the English have kind of seen all this before, and the response has been far more positive in America. I mean, the amount of women in America ... they love the uniforms! (Laughs) It's true. You know, you keep writing to these ladies and you respond to them and saying, "I'm glad you enjoyed the series," but I tell them I can't have my uniform with me.
What about the prospect of working with Ioan and the rest of them again?
Never. No. Don't want to work with them. I'll be very happy never to see them again.
Why is that?
(Whispers) I just don't like them. Ioan is lazy, he's ugly, he's uncharismatic, and I just find him a waste of time.
**I'm quite sure Mr Lindsay was joking in the last two questions**